I have played a few instruments (Piano, Drums and Saxophone) and I have noticed across them all that I have a tendency to drag, or play slightly behind the beat.

I think that mentally I am using the click of a metronome as a signal to play, rather than a signal when to play.

I am working on focusing on playing right on the beat, or even a little in front of the beat, but I am wondering if there are any less obvious ways to improve this particular aspect of timing.

  • 3
    I used to think I had an alright feel for rhythm until I found an app that was a game where you clapped along to a metronome. I did terribly and thought it was due to the latency of the touch screen, until I realized that when I heard the click, that was when I started to move my hands together. The trick was that when you hear the click, that's when you already should start moving them apart again. That realization helped me tremendously when it comes to playing in time - to use the click as a signal to when the drumstick should leave the drum or the pick to leave the guitar string
    – viggo
    Mar 28, 2023 at 13:51
  • Yeah, you've gotta try to get in sync with the metronome, accurately anticipating the "tick"... Mar 29, 2023 at 17:34
  • See this answer too: music.stackexchange.com/a/16852/9426 Apr 7, 2023 at 10:47

4 Answers 4


The fact that you have recognised the problem is at least half way there.

Playing with others, as Tetsujin advocates, could bring salvation, but, as portrayed in the last paragraph, could even exacerbate the problem!

And, you seem to have identified the reason for drag, Although, there may also be some uncertainty of which notes to play that gets involved here.

For a time, keep the lines simple, so every note actually belongs on a click. If you need to play quavers, double the bpm on the metronome.

Playing with a drummer could be a double edged sword - a good one will keep you tight, one who speeds up (the usual) or even wavers, will not help the problem at all. Using a drum machine instead is a great discipline. Some I play with can keep exactly in time, others are out after only a few bars. But, get a good rhythm going on a machine, and it's relentless. You can even turn it down as you play, and hear if your timing is improving.

Bear in mind, though, that unless the music is for strict dance, it will, by its very nature, fluctuate slightly from point to point. That's what the music often does, and makes players do, although that's maybe a slightly different issue from the one you indicate.


If you're working alone, then there's no-one to pull you along, only your own perception of time against a rigid [& pretty boring] click.

I'd suggest working with others, or at least play along to records. Join a band of similar or hopefully slightly better ability.
One unspoken rule of local bands is that everyone is usually of about the same competence; anyone too good or too bad doesn't get to join, or doesn't stay long.
Once you're playing as a unit, you'll find there's a tendency to greater or lesser extent that you pull each other along & a groove is established. This isn't hard and fast, but there's a general rule that as a team you'll all meld your individual differences into one tighter unit.

I always think of ability to stay in a groove is similar to how well people can sing, as a bell-curve with a few exceptional ones at the top, a few hopeless ones at the bottom, but the majority scattered around the middle of the curve with general competence/ability. The more you play, the more you will learn to climb to the upper reaches of that curve. There's ability/talent, then there's practise. Neither alone will get you there.

Anecdotally, I used to dep for a function band on either drums or bass, if one of their players couldn't make a gig. The task tended to split about 50/50 between bass & drums. If I was playing bass I quite enjoyed it; their drummer was basic but competent & could carry a groove well, making the whole band swing along happily. If I had to dep on drums, however, it was a completely different tale. The bassist for some unfathomable reason had never figured out that the centre of his groove was when his finger let go of the string, not when it first contacted it. That meant he constantly dragged & I had to consciously force the beat ahead, all the time. That was draining.

Added to answer rather than as a coment…
Watch the famous 'rushing or dragging' scene from Whiplash -

of course, this is a scripted power-play by one of the characters & 'not real', but I do love how the script is right every time. Before the shouting starts, Andrew first drags a couple of fills, then rushes one, before Fletcher pulls the band up. Once Fletcher starts shouting 'rushing/dragging' & making Andrew start over, each time he is correct. That must have taken many takes, but they got it right in the final cut.
I think it would be interesting to listen to this & see if you can tell when it rushes & when it drags. It's not easy. Most of the time it's very close, except in the really 'flustered' bit where he's nowhere near.


Record the metronome and the instrument you are practicing with.

play 1/4 notes where the 'nome is playing 1/8 notes.

Try to 'bury the click'...that is, make the sound you make and the click close enough that you cannot hear the click playing on its own.

Record this...play it back...deal with the ego hit : )...rinse...repeat


"I have played a few instruments (Piano, Drums and Saxophone)".

WHERE have you played these instruments? In a band/orchestra? Into a computer working to a click?

How did you detect the problem? Because a conductor complained of you dragging? Because your waveform didn't align with the sequencer grid (but perhaps it sounded OK)? Do you particularly play late when reading notation? Perhaps you need more practice at reading.

First, establish that there's a real problem. If there is, don't over-think it. No need to agonise over the psychology of your late playing, just play earlier! If you've got a computer sequencer program maybe set up an exercise. Playing to a click, aim for your waveform to look like the second example rather than the first. A simple scale will do. (Yes, that's TOO early, but be able to do it.)

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